Home Twitter Did NOT “Break” News of Whitney Houston’s Death

Twitter Did NOT “Break” News of Whitney Houston’s Death

MediaBistro’s AllTwitter blog is claiming it has an exclusive on the Twitter user who “broke” the news of Whitney Houston’s death a full hour before the mainstream media.

Here’s the problem with the claim: the user, @BarBeeBritt did nothing more than simply ask “Is Whitney Houston really dead?”

It’s been awhile since I was in journalism school, but the claim that @BarBeeBritt “broke” the story is not in line with what I remember learning there. What I remember is that you did indeed break stories by reporting them first, but that verb is crucial: reporting, as in going out, gathering and verifying facts as opposed to the act of speculation and information seeking with a flick of your thumbs.

You can make a case that the next post about Houston’s death, 13 minutes after @BarBeeBritt asked if Houston was dead, broke the news:

“omgg , my aunt tiffany who work for whitney houston just found whitney houston dead in the tub . such ashame & sad :-(,” @AjaDiorNavy posted.

That was well ahead of the Associated Press’s first post on the death, but it’s still arguable whether the post qualifies as journalism and reliable news gathering.

I’m all for the social media-inspired, citizen journalism movement, but I’ll also argue that telling a story first doesn’t always mean you’re telling it best. Take yesterday, when a widely-retweeted, self-congratulatory headline was making it’s way around Twitter: “Whitney Houston Cause Of Death Revealed On Twitter

Well, sort of but not really: again, the cause of death is speculation based on the tweet that she had been found in a bath tub. Any solid news editor will tell you that until an autopsy and toxicology report is completed, which could take several weeks, no cause of death had been revealed. We can speculate that she drowned. But, based on pills found at the scene, we can also speculate she overdosed, died, and then slipped into the tub.

There’s no doubt that the news of Houston’s death spread remarkably quickly thanks to Twitter. And consider that it happened during one of the biggest lulls in the newscycle, when audiences are typically not paying attention. But even Twitter’s own analysis, as shown in the chart below, shows news of Houston’s death only started to spread rapidly after AP had confirmed and reported it on its own Twitter account:

As a final aside, double shame on AllTwitter for using the misleading EXCLUSIVE headline, as if implying they had comment and an interview from @BarBeeBritt explaining what it was like to break the story. You have to scroll all the way to the bottom to realize the exclusive is simply they rewrote a Twitter release on @BarBeeBrit being the first to mention Houston’s death.

“We’ve reached out for comment and will update accordingly,” AllTwitter writes at the very bottom of its post.

Photo courtesy of ShutterStock.

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